Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Halloween Hootenanny: Day of the Living Dead Dude: The Rob Zombie-thon - Part I

I've been meaning to write-up this moviethon for a few weeks now... and I'll be honest and say that frankly I've been putting off writing more extended pieces during this blogathon... and it doesn't help that I'm horrendously disorganised when it comes to time management. But after listening to the excellent latest episode of Hello! This is the Doomed Show, where Richard and Brad give some much needed love to the slasher remake underdog that is Rob Zombie's Halloween, I got a bee in my bonnet to get going with this... And because it'd be frankly insane (i.e. I'd be up till like four in the morning) to try and type up all my notes in one day (as I'm a last minute sort of guy), I decided it'd be best to do this in two parts. I briefly debated what order I should schedule the films in, but it soon struck me that it would be almost a no-brainer to do them chronologically. I've never sat and watched the entire current cinematic output of a single director before, and furthermore, I haven't seen half of these, so I'm extremely excited to get going.  As usual, I've pre-rambled long enough already, so let's get this dead man's party started!

Friday 13th September 2013

15:31 - House of 1000 Corpses (2003)

This was the second Rob Zombie movie I ever saw, and was also the one that sold me on the guy. I'm indebted to my friend Ashley for showing me his German import Blu-Ray sometime round last Christmas, and then being kind enough to lend it to me for the best part of a year (!), until I got round to finally re-watching it (i.e. now). I thoroughly enjoyed it the first time around, but frankly we were both pretty drunk and stoned during that viewing, so I've been eager to revisit this for a while, as many of the details from that initial watch are now pretty damn hazy. Anyway, enough autobiography... on to the movie itself!

Confusion (and a slight sense of deja vu) occurs instantly, as I'm temporarily convinced that I've left the German language track on... but nope, it's actually part of the prologue, which (if memory serves) shows us black and white footage of some kind of crazed TV horror host. After this though, I'm back on track... though that's not to say there won't be more wonderful mind rape to be had later in the moviethon... oh far fucking from it my friends!

The set up is fairly simple: two couples are on the road checking out weird and wonderful roadside attractions with the idea in mind of eventually writing a book (I think). While on their travels, they come across Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig) and his 'Museum of Monsters & Madmen', which contains a "murder ride" where they learn all about the legend of Dr. Satan. Unsurprisingly, they soon take off on the trail of this nefarious fiend of local lore, and as you might imagine, soon find themselves in much deeper and weirder waters than they could ever have possibly imagined. And there ends the synopsising folks, as if you haven't seen it, I'd hate to spoil anything for you.

As the movie's title no doubt makes explicit, this isn't one for the squeamish or easily offended. Zombie really doesn't pull any punches when it comes to gore and general depravity, and there's some refreshingly (not to mention shamelessly) vulgar dialogue strewn throughout the film. Surprisingly though, it isn't as gruelling as you might expect from the posters and Zombie's general reputation, as there's a heavy emphasis on humour, coupled with a huge amount of riffing on other movies (both horror and otherwise), making this a hell of a lot of fun. And if you are any kind of an aesthete, you should get a kick out of this on a visual level alone... and on that subject, this Blu-Ray is seriously stunning, with rich carnival-esque colours flooding a good many of the film's scenes. And it also features the first of many inspired uses of famous songs that we'll see today... I'll put it this way... you'll never listen to "Brick House" by The Commodores in the same way ever again.

Last but certainly not least, I'd be remiss if I didn't briefly mention the film's amazing cast (again the first of many today), including the likes of Bill Moseley, Sheri Moon Zombie, Karen Black and Rainn Wilson...oh, and Bela Lugosi has a brief cameo too. No one really steals the film, but many have their shining moments... this really is something of an ensemble affair. If you still haven't seen it and want a fun, crazy, balls-out, gory horror flick to watch with a few friends round this Halloween, then I'd highly recommend getting the beers and snacks in and checking this out.

17:34 -  The Devil's Rejects (2005)

This is the first movie of the day that I've not seen yet, so I'm pretty psyched y'all, but also a tiny bit worried, but only because I enjoyed House of 1000 Corpses so much during the re-watch that I'm concerned that this follow-up has huge boots to fill. This being the case, I make an extra conscious effort to completely flat-line my expectations so I can hopefully just take the movie for what it is. As we'll soon see though, it turns out that I needn't have worried in the first place...

The Devil's Rejects is essentially 'the continuing mis-adventures of the Firefly family', following three of the clan as they take to the road after having their house obliterated by police gun-fire, seeing one family member killed, and another taken into custody. Somewhat predictably, the remaining Fireflys eventually take some prisoners of their own, who they abuse mercilessly for their own amusement. But this time around, they have a formidable nemesis on their trail, in the form of Sheriff John Quincey Wydell (William Forsythe), who has a particularly personal vendetta against the family, seeing as one of them murdered his brother. Other crazy characters include friend of the family Charlie Altamont and a bounty hunter called Rondo (part of the "Unholy Two"), played by Ken Foree and Danny Trejo respectively, both making their first appearances in the moviethon. Oh and Bela Lugosi has another brief cameo.

This film has a decidedly grittier tone than its predecessor, and isn't as consistently fun as a result. I'll be honest and say I think some of the more sexualised violence here (and in some of Zombie's other work too) is perhaps bordering on the gratuitous side, though I suppose it probably serves its purpose in making the Firefly family seem like the amoral monsters they really are, and especially Baby and Otis, played by Sheri Moon Zombie and Bill Moseley respectively... Captain Spaulding on the other hand, and as Zombie himself has said, is more of a "loveable asshole". However, having said all this, there are some scenes which are pretty damn funny; I found the one between Wydell and a Marx Brothers obsessed critic especially hilarious. Finally, I must say I'm not entirely sure what to make of the ending.... I found it quite satisfying on a purely visceral level (again partly due to an inspired use of a famous song), but the more I think about it, the less it holds together for me (i.e. once you start to read into what it suggests). Again though, I'll resist the urge to say anything more specific than that, as it would be totally giving the game away. I'm eager to re-visit this one as soon as possible to see if I have any further thoughts on it... Generally speaking though, this was a great sequel, with plenty to recommend about it.

19:52 - Halloween (2007)

At the beginning of this blog post, I totally forgot to mention what a polarising figure Zombie is within the horror community... he really does seem to inspire equal fervour from both his supporters and detractors. And while this is probably stating the obvious, it is most likely the fact that the guy had the brass balls to even attempt to re-make Carpenter's classic that has made him a pariah for the seeming majority of genre fans. This was the first film I ever saw by the director, probably not long after its initial DVD release, and seeing as I had somewhat mixed feelings about it at the time (but leaning towards the mostly positive), I've been very keen to re-visit it...

Is a synopsis really necessary here? Well actually, it sort of is, seeing as this is quite a different film from the original, especially for the best part of the first hour. Without going into too much detail, this is essentially a fleshed out origin story for Michael Myers, leaning almost towards more of a sociological explanation for his actions than a supernatural one, though having said that, it's pretty much self-evident in both movies that young Michael has some pretty serious issues from the word go. But to be fair to the little guy, there's far from a surplus of love and affection to found round his household (with the exception of that provided by his mother - Sheri Moon Zombie - that is, when she's not out stripping to pay the bills). Still though, he has all the clear indicators of being someone who is heading inexorably towards the deep end, never to return...

It really does feel totally unnecessary to say any more than that with regards to the plot, as I'm sure that even those who've yet to see the original will know where this is all going. Generally speaking, my appreciation for the film has grown during this re-watch, though the slight problems I had with it still remain. Specifically, I'm not sure what I make of the last third of the movie, but, in the interest of full-disclosure, I must confess that's only because that's where I get a bit foggy on the details (and I wasn't even stoned... honest!), though the fact this has happened to me both times I've watched the film is something I find slightly curious and potentially suggestive. So really, that isn't an actual criticism, but more an admission that I didn't find the final act particularly engaging for some reason. As with The Devil's Rejects, I'm anxious to revisit this as soon as possible, so I can clear up my own confusion. Plus I'd quite like to get my hands on the theatrical cut after hearing Brad and Richard saying they prefer it to the director's cut (if memory serves at least... if this is wrong guys, please give me a shout immediately), mainly it seems due to the removal of a scene of frankly superfluous sexual violence, which is something I also found in The Devil's Rejects.

To focus back on the positives though, this features another astonishing ensemble cast, including a fair few of what can only be described as Zombie's repertory company, including Mrs. Zombie, Danny Trejo, Ken Foree and Sid Haig. And it doesn't stop there, as we've got Dee Wallace, Danielle Harris, Brad Dourif as Sheriff Brackett, and last but not least, Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis... and by the way, I absolutely love the scenes between the latter pair, as they both throw themselves into their roles with characteristic intensity and hence play off each other very well. Scout Taylor-Compton is an engaging, likeable lead, and plays a very different Laurie from Jaime Lee Curtis, as her character is much more of a fun loving gal than her namesake; case in point, witness the kitchen scene between her and Dee Wallace, which I found absolutely hilarious. And Daeg Faerch and the imposing Tyler Mane both do an excellent job of portraying the young and grown-up Michael respectively. I think that covers pretty much everyone... damn, there's a lot of cool people in this movie.

In summation, I do like Halloween quite a bit... probably more than I do The Devil's Reject's but not as much as House of 1000 Corpses. I realise it's a bit unfair to compare the three as they are very much their own movies, but I'm just pointing out which of them appeal more directly to my own personal tastes. So while I enjoy this re-imagining and am eager to re-watch it (for reasons already mentioned), I can't see myself returning to it over and over again... though it's currently a bit too early to say such things with any degree of conviction. Halloween II on the other hand....

To be continued.... Click here for part two...

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